Tag Archives: spinal injury

Nine Months On: My Ongoing Journey Of Overcoming A Spinal CSF Leak. 

“Courage isn’t having strength to go on, it’s going on when you don’t have strength.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Each of us has a story. Our life stories are unique to us. Lives, circumstances and even illness and injury are not often ‘text book’. 

We are all individuals and our lives and bodies are complex. 

I want to continue to share my own story, in the hope it might help you on your journey and also hopefully educate people about some of the complexities of these conditions.

I have chosen to write the post specifically with CSF leak and post concussion sufferers in mind. Which is why it is longer than my normal posts.

Over the months I have read about other peoples stories.

Some of them tie into my own experiences. 

Some don’t. 

So I wanted to add my own story to those out there. Maybe you will relate to it. Maybe not. But I hope that it helps you regardless.

“Facing pain may require more courage than we’ve ever had in our lives.” – Samuel Chand

We all have days and times in our lives when we don’t want to get up in the morning. When life is busy, stressful and hard work. Times that you crave to be able to stay in bed all day read a book, watch TV or listen to music.

Then you get ill or injured and, for a time, staying in bed all day becomes your reality.

And it is far from easy. 

If you have seen any of my previous blog posts you will know I fell off a ladder 9 months ago and sustained a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) and was later diagnosed with post-concussion then 8/9 weeks later, a CSF Leak (Cerebral Spinal Fluid Leak). Which we assume is somewhere in my spine.

At the moment I am lying flat in bed writing this. I have spoken about lying flat in many of my blog posts, but what does this actually mean? 

I mean my upper body and particularly my head has to be flat on the bed or sofa. Sometimes I can use a very thin pillow to support my head. Often even that lifts my head too high, so I tend to spend most of the day, and sleep, without a pillow. I can be on my back, side or even front.

But my head must be as flat as possible

When I was in hospital, both times, It would intrigue me that so many very ill people are propped up in bed with pillows and their beds raised up.

That concept is unthinkable for me at the moment. In fact the reality is that would just be a form of torture. It seems alien to me to be unwell and sitting propped up. 


I have a routine now where I drink lying flat (even cups of tea) using straws. I eat all my meals and snacks (apart from dinner) lying flat. (I just eat dinner extra fast so I can lie down again quickly). 

My first time in hospital the pain had got so unbearable that my husband would feed me dinner, so I could lie flat, because that is the only way I could manage the symptoms and the pain.

Nine months later, following a relapse, I have learnt to manage it a lot better. The main way to do this is just to avoid being upright for more time than absolutely necessary. Five or ten minutes is normally manageable. Beyond that is often unbearable.

You have no choice but to lie down because it reaches the point you literally just can’t function upright. 

So I currently try to only get up when absolutely necessary.

When I lie flat I am almost symptom free. I say almost, because I still can feel weak and dizzy and get some aches and pains. 

But lying flat I generally feel more like me: 
I can write,
I can talk,
I can think.
I feel more normal! 

Sitting or standing at the moment is a whole other issue. You would not believe how you can go from feeling mainly symptom free to feeling really very ill in a matter of minutes or even sometimes seconds of being upright.

Since I was diagnosed with a CSF Leak, I have caused the doctors and Neurologists a lot of confusion because my full set of symptoms are not fully in line with their normal experience of a CSF leak. 

Most doctors experience of CSF leaks are mainly from epidurals that have gone wrong or lumbar punctures (LP’s/ Spinal Taps) where the hole in the spinal dura won’t close. Also people can obviously get cranial/ skull leaks from trauma, which can be seen through spinal fluid dripping out your ear or nose. These can be (but not always) easier to diagnose and often easier to treat.

Spinal leaks, whether spontaneous or through trauma (as in my case), often cannot be easily seen or proven. Which makes diagnosis and treatment problematic.

Mine also seems to be connected to the original post-concussion diagnosis. Which tends to confuse doctors because I often present at A&E with symptoms that are more in line with post-concussion syndrome/ post traumatic migraine.

The telling sign that there is probably a CSF leak, in the mix, is that I have the postural element of the injury. I am generally symptom free lying flat, but symptoms build when upright. If I am upright for too long the symptoms will also extend to lying down for a while after, but they always dramatically improve. 

This has lead the Neurologists to conclude that they think I probably have a CSF leak that exacerbates post-concussion migraine symptoms. I will try and explain this to you further in the hope that it might help other people with similar issues.

A couple of weeks ago I was admitted to hospital following an almost total relapse of symptoms. There are a few things that were slightly better than last time I was admitted 6 months ago, but generally it’s the same thing. I think perhaps part of the difference now is that I know how to manage the injury better than I did before. 

Here were my symptoms I was admitted with (in no particular order). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dizziness,
Balance issues,
Walking difficulties,
Speaking difficulties, including slurring of words and inability to fully express myself.
Drunk like behaviour.
Pressure in the head.
Neck stiffness & pain.
Pain at the lower back of my head.
Photophobia (light sensitivity)
Shaking and spasms.

These are actually almost the same symptoms I had every time I visited A&E since my injury (4 in all). The third visit I was in such acute pain in my head/ neck that they tried to give me morphine, which rather than take the pain away, made it worse and made me very sick so they decided to admit me for a brain MRI scan.

It was only through this first admission that I finally got to see a Neurologist who raised the possibility of a CSF leak due to the postural nature of my symptoms.

The consultant looked into two possible diagnoses: Post traumatic migraine from the concussion or a CSF leak.

Neurology then set about to investigate the CSF diagnosis which proved more problematic than we would have hoped.

If you read up on CSF leaks you will soon discover that diagnosis can be immensely difficult.

Unless you have recently had a lumbar puncture/ spinal tap, an epidural or spinal surgery and then present with postural headaches. Proving you have a leak and finding it can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

They firstly did an MRI brain with contrast which came back clear of Intracranial Hypotension or ‘brain sag/slump’. This is the condition that low CSF causes. Basically, because there is less fluid round your brain, your brain then falls in your skull, due to gravity, when you are upright. The pain and symptoms are due to the pressure this puts on this area of your head and the stretching/ squashing that occurs.

It is not unheard of for these scans to come back clear. And from what I have read, severity of symptoms do not necessarily correspond to these scan results.

So they attempted to find a leak site in my neck via MRI. This also came back normal. Which is again not unusual.

The leaks are often minute. Most imaging, even MRI, is not powerful enough to locate them. 

They then did a lumbar puncture/spinal tap to look at opening pressure. Mine was a 7. They said they would consider it to be low if it was 8 or lower. Worse cases of CSF leak are often a 3 or below. (Normal is about 10-20).

So that supported the diagnosis but it was not a definitive diagnosis. 

When they did the LP I knew it was the same sensation I felt. However, following the LP I had an additional headache which was even worse, again postural, and all my other symptoms increased too:

Head pressure,
Neck pain,
Dizziness,
Instability walking etc.
My back also hurt a lot at the site of the LP. 

These restored back to what they were before the LP a couple of days later.

I then had an MRI of my spine which came back clear. 

The neurologists then decided to try a high volume blind epidural blood patch. Which is used to treat spinal CSF leaks when they can’t locate the leak site.

Usually if you have had an LP or an Epidural they know where the leak is so they can inject the blood patch into the same location in the lower epidural space in the spine. This is supposed to help seal the leak through the blood clotting and generally increase the spinal fluid pressure. These procedures have a high success rate. 

It wasn’t easy for them to agree to get an anaesthetist to do a blind patch at first, because of the higher risks involved and lack of evidence to back up the diagnosis. Blind blood patches are a lot less effective than ones directed at the actual leak location. 

The problem is we think, it is possible, that my leak might be in the upper or even cervical (neck) spine. To do a blood patch higher up the spine is very high risk because of the lack of space between the vertebra to reach the epidural space and because of the proximity to the brain.  

Eventually a team of anaesthetists agreed to do a blind blood patch and they took me down to surgery to do it. I think they managed to inject 30ml of my blood, taken from my arm, into the epidural space in my lower spine. 

The consultant anaesthetist then advised not to do a second blood patch, even if symptoms did not improve. When people have blood patches following an LP or epidural CSF leak, relief can often be quite instant. They will also often do a second or even third blood patch if the first one fails. In my case they were concerned about doing another high volume patch without further investigation. 

I laid flat on my back for about 15 hours after mine, without moving, to help it to ‘take’.

When I was able to get up some things had improved, some things hadn’t. 

I had the choice whether to be discharged or stay at hospital to pursue more investigations and treatment (which was not a simple route). I chose to go home (having been there 18 days) and work on my recovery and hope and trust that things would improve.

And things did improve, a lot.    Within a few days I was back on my feet. I could walk on my own again outside, I could drive short distances. I didn’t have as much problem with head pressure and pain.

But it was still there. 

I always put this down to the fact I had had a brain injury (concussion) prior to this and had been in bed for 3 months.

Surely things would just take time. 

Symptoms improved gradually and I thankfully pretty much got back to normality.

But I still suffered with head pressure, head pain, spaced out symptoms, dizziness, back pain (from the blood patch) and neck pain.

I still found I could not get through a whole day without lying down flat. Life became about pacing myself. Staying positive and believing that things would keep improving. 

Then I relapsed. 

Perhaps I did too much.
Perhaps I took too many risks.
Perhaps it happened regardless of what I did.  

Over the period of about 2/3 weeks things got progressively worse. I had to lie down flat more and more during the day to cope and compensate.

I went back to the GP, got a referral back to Neurology (which I would have to wait for an appointment for). Tried lying down for most of two days to see if that helped.

Then symptoms got overwhelming and we headed back to A&E for the fourth time this year. As I talk about in ‘Learning Patience’. 

The thing that again confused the Neurologists was why did I always present with symptoms more in line with post-concussion syndrome/ post -traumatic migraine BUT the symptoms are obviously very postural.

Why did I not just present with an unbearable postural headache, as in ‘normal cases’?

I understood this dilemma myself because when I read about symptoms. Most people would talk about unbearable headaches, and even though I experienced headaches, they were not always fully in line with others descriptions.

In fact, other people’s descriptions were probably more in line with the additional headache I experienced during the couple of days after the LP. That headache was more distinctly a headache as well as increasing all my other current symptoms.

What I tend to experience is nothing like I had ever felt before. 

I will try and explain the sensation I experience at its worst

I sit up, almost instantly my head begins to cloud over and the pressure builds, that makes me feel dizzy and unstable on my feet. Each minute of standing this increases. It feels a bit like you have been whacked round the back of your head by a heavy object.

What feels like a stiffness in the upper neck then increases followed by what moves from an ache to an increasing pain at the bottom back of my skull.

After a bit it can feel almost like I am being strangled, from the back of my head. I can also feel a pressure behind my sinuses, it can make me cough and gag, the front of my neck gets tense. I struggle to think, can struggle with my words, increasingly struggle to walk without support and then if I am up too long I can end up twitching/ shaking and having small spasms.

You become consumed by doing what has to be done as quickly as possible and getting back to lying flat. I feel very irritable and shaky because I just physically and mentally cannot cope with being upright.

The longer you are upright, the worse it gets and the longer it takes to recover lying down. Once back lying flat it often can take a few minutes to recover from what can only be described as the trauma of being upright. (Occasionally it takes longer to recover). 

The doctors always ask me ‘do you have a headache’? or ‘how is the headache’? But to me it’s not simply a headache.

It’s not just about a crazy ‘pain in my head’ it is more than that. It’s an intensity that is unrelenting and sets off various other symptoms. Pain is one of those but not necessarily the over riding symptom. 

The overriding unbearable symptom is intense unrelenting and increasing pressure in my head that makes doing anything immensely difficult. Until I reach a point my body and mental processing cannot cope with it anymore and it begins to react accordingly by shutting down.
I just cannot function properly sitting or standing. 

It is a headache, I guess, but nothing like headaches I ever had before my injury. I often feel the pain more in my upper neck than head.  Previously, the very occasional headaches I had were always at the top front of my head and were completely different. There is no comparison. I think it’s perhaps more migrane like but I never had a migrane so I don’t really know.

Headaches are unpleasant. You lie down and they are still there. You take painkillers to get rid of them. (I have occasionally had a normal headache in addition since my injury – they don’t go away lying down). 

These so called ‘headaches’ feel like you are being tortured. My body literally cannot handle being upright. Which is why when I have to sit up to travel to and wait in A&E waiting rooms, my symptoms always increase and I act like a drunk person. I cannot physically or cognitively cope with the strain put on my brain.

When eventually I get to lie down (usually before I see an A&E consultant) I am suddenly not quite as bad. Which is probably one of the reasons the first two times I was discharged as just having post-concussion syndrome.

We didn’t understand the relevance of posture at that time. 

When I finally was admitted. I still didn’t fully understand the need to be fully flat. My bed was often at first a little raised. I used large pillows. I sat up to drink drinks, eat, get changed, use the bathroom, speak to people.

I now realise that is why the pain built up to be unbearable. I have learnt not to do that any more. Which means I have generally learnt to manage the pain, without medication.

As long as I lie flat pretty much for 24 hours a day. 

It’s a part positive of the condition – I get relief from the torture. 

But you obviously can’t live a normal life like that. 

“When we face life challenges, we must find a way not only to survive them, but in time, to actually grow from them. We must find a way to keep on keeping on, no matter how hard or painful life becomes. As a result, we can avoid getting “stuck” and live life in spite of our circumstances.” – Kelli Horn

After a few days in hospital, after my relapse, they agreed to try another blind blood patch. Which was again the subject of great debate between the Neurologists themselves and the Anaesthetists (especially because they had initially advised only doing one). 

So that is what I am currently waiting for. They said I could have it as an ‘outpatient’ so I get to wait at home rather than hospital. (One blood patch was already cancelled though because of lack of theatre time available and then a subsequent recovery bed). 

Blind Epidural blood patches usually have a 50% success rate. Being a person of faith in God and optimism I am choosing to believe it will work and again get me back on my feet.

It did last time. We are trusting it will again. But this time we are praying that it fully heals and will never come back.

You don’t realise how precious a normal life is till it is snatched away from you. 

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” – Helen Keller

I have and am learning a lot and developed more compassion towards others with long term health issues. Compassion means ‘to suffer together’. There is a beautiful thing that can happen if we allow our own suffering to develop our compassion towards others.

Humanity becomes more unified, gracious and loving as I wrote in ‘We Are All Messed Up’.

If you suffer with post-concussion or a CSF leak I hope that you find a way through, discover the strength you will need and that you will find doctors who understand and can help you.

Having a unusual injury or illness is hard, but let’s choose to keep holding on to hope for the future. Encouraging one another and hoping that doctors become more knowledgable and understanding of this debilitating condition.

There is always hope, there is always progress being made. Life may be hard but there is always something we can do and achieve.  

Even amidst the pain. 

“Your past mistakes, hurts & pain can help give someone else a future. Whatever we have gone through enables us to help others.” – Christine Cain


I would love to hear about your stories and experiences with concussion, post-concussion and CSF Leaks? Please do comment below. You never know you might help someone else in the process.

For more of my posts on this subject please see my first post here. You can see my ongoing series of posts by clicking on the CSF Leak and Concussion menu at the top of the page. 

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

A fantastic informative video that you can refer to about spinal CSF Leaks, their symptoms and treatments is The Mystery Headache: Migraine, Positional Headache, Spinal Fluid Leak? by Professor Ian Carroll at Stamford University Hospitals.

Surviving the Storm Eight Months On: My Battle with Concussion & A CSF Leak

A day.
A moment.
An accident.
8 months ago.
When things went wrong for a season.

A fall.
A brain injury.
An undiagnosed spinal injury.
Months of craziness.

This is my update.

It’s for those who know me and it’s for those who don’t. I know some of you are finding these blog posts by searching online.

I want to tell you my story. In the hope that it helps you. Perhaps your own story involves injury and illness, brain or spinal injury. Or maybe it involves another type of storm.

We all face stormy seasons in our lives.

Life is a journey of discovery. We are constantly learning about ourselves and what is around us.

Self awareness is an important part of our growth. My husband and I are on a constant journey to understand life better: Why do we do what we do and feel what we feel? What is our purpose in life and how do we live it out?

We then hope what we learn might help others too.

The journey of self awareness is a humbling journey and yet it is a healthy journey. It helps us to process and break free from thoughts and behaviour that seek to control us.

The past 8 months have been one of the most intense personal journeys of growth I have experienced. As I wrote in Surviving the Storm Six Months On, I have come face to face with many of my weaknesses. Which has been hard and painful, but also a journey of discovering new strength.

wolken

So 8 months on.
Where am I now?

I would love to say that everything is fine. That I have made a full recovery and we can leave it all behind us.

But that is not the truth.

At this moment, I am writing this post lying flat, which still forms a significant part of my day. I was up at 6am, as it was the kids first day back at school. I rushed about getting them ready, dropping them off, shopping, sorting, cleaning etc. Then by about 10am I recognised that I needed a bit of ‘down time’ to ward off symptoms and to pace myself through the day.

If you have read my previous posts, know about CSF leaks or have spoken to me about it, you will know that the postural side of the injury is a key part of it.

Basically when you have a CSF leak, your spinal fluid leaks either from your skull or from the part of your spine that holds the spinal fluid.

We never located my leak on the various scans I had, but we assumed mine was probably a spinal leak. This means the spinal fluid leaks into your body from a tiny hole or tear in the membrane that surrounds your spinal cord.

This results in ‘brain sag’. The brain lacks the support of the spinal fluid and so drops in your skull when you are upright (either sitting or standing).

This causes various problems. The most reported symptoms are severe headaches and neck pain as everything gets squashed and stretched inside. But there are a multitude of other symptoms.

One of the key ones for me at first was severe dizziness and major balance issues (I could hardly walk without support for almost 3 months). This is so much better but still manifests as a spaced out/ cloudy feeling quite a bit.

I was diagnosed with a CSF leak about 8/9 weeks after my initial fall off a ladder (following an initial post concussion diagnosis). After finally being admitted to hospital with various symptoms, about 18 days lying flat in a neurology ward, having 3 MRI scans, which were inconclusive, and a lumbar puncture, which showed low pressure spinal fluid – I had a blind epidural blood patch. (They take blood from your arm and inject it into the epidural space in your spine, in the hope that the clotting helps to heal the leak and increase the spinal fluid pressure. Mine was a high volume blind blood patch, because they couldn’t find the leak on MRI scans, which is not unusual. If they know where the leak is then patches are often more successful).

All this treatment had a significant positive impact and, as I wrote in my first Surviving the Storm post, it brought a sense of normality back to my life. I could spend much more time upright. I was able to do most things and thankfully could drive again (although I stick to short journeys at present because my head can still cloud over at times).

Since then there has been a general gradual improvement.

However,

I am still not back to where I was pre-injury and that is a challenge. I have days that are better and days that are more difficult. But the persistent symptoms are still a daily battle.

I have had to develop new routines that involve regular ‘lying down flat’ breaks. Often these are around lunch time and in the evening, although it varies a lot as I try and preempt what I need to do and lie down before and/or after going out.

I tend to find evenings harder generally. So on busier days I often spend a lot of the evening lying flat (either in bed or on the sofa – as long as my head is pretty flat). Less busy or less symptomatic days it is not as necessary.

I feel extremely blessed that in general the pain scale is nothing like it was around the time I was admitted to hospital. Back then it regularly reached 8 or even 10 out of 10 (comparable to having a baby ladies).

These days thankfully the pain is not as severe and takes longer to build up.

It is nothing like any headaches I had ever experienced pre-injury.

It’s more of an intensity, a pressure that builds up in the lower back of my head and in the top of my neck, leaving my neck feeling really stiff and painful and my head full and cloudy.

When I do lie down often that same feeling often drops to the bottom of my spine around where I had the blood patch.

Similar sensation; different place.

One way I explain it to others is it’s like having a really bad head cold and your head is so full of pressure that it’s hard to think and do things. If it’s a particularly bad one I also can feel it behind my sinuses which makes the sensation more head cold like.

This feeling varies in intensity throughout the day. Often, first thing, I feel fine. It then builds up to varying levels depending on what I am doing and how much lying down I have done.

As it builds up, things get harder. I might take some paracetamol or ibuprofen which helps a bit. Caffeine is also proven to help, so I usually get dosed up on that in the mornings.

As it gets worse I tend to go quieter as everything gets harder, both mentally and physically. The pressure, pain and stiffness builds, which is often coupled by a spaced out feeling and still sometimes a bit of photophobia.

Most of the time I will look fine outwardly. But if you see me when it gets really bad you might pick up on a spaced out, distracted, stressed or pained look on my face.

I often try and keep going for a while when I get like this, until I reach a point where it gets so bad I can’t think straight, the pressure and pain builds and I know I need to rest and lie down. I also try and preempt it and lie down before it gets too bad.

When I lie down there is an element of instant relief. I often say to my husband before I lie down I sometimes just feel like I want to go to sleep; you just feel wiped out. But soon after lying down I can think straight again, my head gets clearer and the pressure eases.

(This was often the way it was at the start, following my injury. I found I could have decent conversations with people if I was lying down. But I didn’t last very long and often couldn’t think straight for very long sitting or especially standing or walking).

The current physical symptoms vary in their intensity on different days, depending on how busy or strenuous the day is and even what time of the month it is (yes ladies it gets worse then!)

During the recent summer holidays things generally seemed better. I felt I had more energy and perhaps needed to lie down a bit less. It helped that I could take it easy in the mornings, lie in bed for longer and add in breaks where necessary.

This summer we have done a lot of clearing out and sorting thorough stuff, which I wrote about in my last post. That kind of work is quite physically demanding so I would rest more at the start of the day and then by the end of a day I usually had to lie down more.

It’s all about managing your time and energy reserves. I also spend time praying and getting encouraged with great words from the bible and other quotes. This helps keep my thoughts together and focus on good things through the tougher and more frustrating days.

wolken
Storms come.
Life goes on.
We cannot wallow in the challenges or they will swallow us up.

I have been getting better and I want to hold onto that and keep believing for complete healing and freedom from this storm soon.

The storm has calmed but it has not yet fully passed. You learn to live with it to an extent and yet I also choose to believe it will fully heal in time.

My faith encourages me to not live life defeated or deflated. Hope always drives us forward. Even though it can be a humbling process balancing belief and reality.

I am deeply grateful for all the health and healing already attained and the sense of normality it brings.

Most of all I am thankful for the good that my experience will bring. There are always positives to be found, even in hard times. Even the darkest times can be used for good.

Whatever your unique storm:
Never let go of hope.
Never stop believing.
Never stop seeing the good, even when it’s painful.

Perspective is vital.

There is always something to be thankful for.
There are always others worse off than you.
We all suffer and feel pain in one way or another.

As a popular saying goes:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

I have decided that I will always find the ways and means to dance through life, even in the midst of the rain.

It’s not always easy, but it is the only way to live and thrive through both the ups and the downs of life. It is the only way to find the strength to survive the storm when it hits.

This is my story of a unique season in my life. A storm that has come, that is passing but is taking its time to fully leave.

I don’t know what storms you face? An injury, illness, relationship breakdown or bereavement? Perhaps your prognosis is much worse than mine? Maybe your storm is hidden from view?

But there is a way forward:

We can learn how to dance in the rain.
It is the only way to thrive in the midst of the storm.


I would love to hear about your stories and experiences. Please do leave a comment below or on my social media links.

You can read the first post about my injury here and my six month update here. I usually write my blog posts on my iPhone during my ‘lying flat’ times. Initially following my injury I could not even look at a phone or computer screen for more than a few minutes without feeling exceptionally ill. I am very grateful to be able to do this now.

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.


Surviving the Storm Six Months On: My battle with Concussion & a CSF leak

This post is a follow up post to Surviving The Storm: My Battle With Concussion And A CSF Leak that I wrote 3 months ago.


Life is a journey through different seasons. Seasons of celebration, happiness and success and seasons of loss, pain and frustration.

Sometimes unexpected things happen and life changes in an instant. Sometimes that change is temporary. Sometimes permanent. But it always brings a season of adjustment with it.

At the start of 2015 my life was going along normally. It was the start of a new year; a new season; a new time.

Then I had an accident.

In many ways, it was just a small accident. In an error of judgement I put a small step ladder on an uneven surface whilst painting. I painted with it there for hours, then in one moment the ladder toppled over and I fell.

One mistake on my part. And one I have paid for over the past six months.

We all make mistakes every day. Often the consequences are minimal. Then a day comes when we make a mistake that has bigger consequences.

We can’t change what happened.
We can only learn from our mistakes.

That journey is never easy.

When I fell, I hit my head, back, neck and arm. It was a blunt but forceful impact to my lower head and although I felt the impact and felt slightly dazed, in general I actually felt OK.

So I did what I always do: I got up and carried on.

I even joked to others about falling off that ladder – oblivious to what had actually taken place.

Then as I wrote in Surviving the Storm, over the next week my injury caught up with me and everything began to unravel.

Grunge Background

Brain injuries like concussion, post concussion and CSF leaks are tough. They are difficult to fully diagnose and yet so debilitating. Your brain is like mission control to your whole body and when your brain gets rattled or strained so many things get out of sync.

I am one of the blessed people whose injury, although serious, was comparatively mild. Severe brain injuries are life threatening and permanently life transforming. I am so very thankful that it was no worse.

However,

It was and still is a storm in my life. It was debilitating. It changed my life for a time. It is still improving but it has not yet fully passed.

Four or five months ago, at its worst, the only way to ease the symptoms was to lie flat and do nothing. For hours, days and weeks on end.

Have you ever tried that?

Doing nothing but lying flat in a dark room.

It can be torture. Especially when you are dizzy and in pain.

I was then finally admitted to hospital 8 weeks after the initial injury. Although tough in itself, I was thankful for this, because we got some answers and I was finally diagnosed with a CSF leak (cerebral spinal fluid leak).

Many people will not know that after a few days in hospital I faced one of the darkest days in my life.

Some events took place that probably during an average day I would have coped with and managed mentally and emotionally a lot better than I did.

But on that day a pattern of events unfolded that involved a senior hospital staff member with an exceptionally bad attitude.

And it totally floored me.

I have never felt so utterly weak and helpless. I was in so much pain, was mentally impaired by the cloudiness and dizziness, and faced a very unpleasant situation that I was powerless to deal with.

Those two days (because things got worse before they got better) were probably two of the the hardest days of my life, in many ways.

I have never felt so desperate, so weak, so intimidated and so vulnerable.

I cried a lot that day, desperately and deeply (in a hospital ward full of other people).

Have you ever come to the end of yourself?
When you have no strength left physically or mentally.
When you feel desperately vulnerable.
When you can’t fight any more.
When you don’t know what to do.

At its worst my injury left me in severe pain and my body would start shaking violently in response. As this happened my mind would cloud over and take me into a drunk-like state.

You can’t think straight, struggle to talk, can hardly stand and walk, and it can be quite distressing.

You feel immensely vulnerable and it was in my vulnerability that I faced this intimidating situation that I couldn’t deal with alone.

In that moment I thank God so much for people who loved and cared for me. There was a wonderful nurse at the hospital who reached out to me in my desperation with compassion and understanding. My church family had already dedicated a week to praying for me and they fought for me spiritually in my dark hour.

My husband was at a pre-planned family gathering with my girls that day (over 2 hours away). It was to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, in her remembrance (just over a year after her death). He dropped everything to leave, earlier than planned, and got to me as soon as he could (about 3 hours later).

In my darkest hour I was physically and mentally wrecked and alone, and yet I did the one thing I could: I reached out to God in the midst of my desperation. 

I knew that He would carry me.

When there was nothing left of me I knew He would hold me.

When I felt the most vulnerable I had ever felt, I knew I had advocate who was fighting for me.

And that is what got me through. Believing, hoping and trusting that things would get better.


I have never felt so desperate, so weak and so vulnerable.


CSF leaks can be very hard to fix. There is still a lot of uncertainly about the best ways to treat them. After two and a half weeks in hospital I ended up having a blood patch (where blood is injected into the epidural space in your spine) which helped a lot, but it certainly didn’t solve everything.

I again had to decide to hold onto my hope and have faith that it would get better. And things have got better. A sense of normality returned, but even 6 months on life post-injury is still a challenge in many ways.

I still can’t do everything I once did.

And that is hard.

As I shared in ‘Is Busyness a Choice?‘ I was a busy person. One of those people that always had a lot on and did a lot of rushing about.

But at the moment I still can’t rush about like I used to.

And it is SO frustrating.

I still have to sit and lie down at regular intervals. Especially when I have a lot on.

I often feel lightheaded, my head gets cloudy and a spaced out.

Life takes much more effort. Which is a mental, as well as a physical challenge for me.

I am a doer, a get up and get on type of person, but my body won’t always let me do that at the moment.

When your energy levels are low, everything becomes so much more difficult. The things you have to do become that much harder. And even your mental processing becomes impaired. These are all things that I still have to battle through daily.

I have to have wisdom to work out my days. If I know I have a lot to do I need to make sure I have clear rest points in the day, both before and after the activities I need to do.

It is manageable.
But it is frustrating.

And yet despite all these challenges I have learnt and grown so much.

I have so much more empathy and awareness of people with health issues. I hardly ever used to get ill, so my experience of battling this has given me more compassion for people who are struggling with injury and illness.

I have had to develop a longer term perspective so as not to get overwhelmed with the daily challenges. I have to see the bigger picture. 

I have had to learn to say no to doing too much, allow other people to help me, and tell people when I am struggling. Which doesn’t come easy to me because I fight against self pity at all costs and do not enjoy being a victim.

Life has been more frustrating.
I have faced increased feelings of discouragement.
But I have certainly become more self aware and developed more humility.

The last six months have been tough in many ways.
However,
I believe we can never give up or lose hope.

Without hope we have nothing to live for. It is always faith, hope and love that give us confidence for the future.

I have faced my own vulnerabilities and weaknesses like never before. And more than ever I know I cannot rely on my own strength to keep going and do all I am meant to do.

But that is not a bad thing.

Coming face to face with your own weaknesses and vulnerability can be a good thing.

In the Bible God said this to the Apostle Paul when he was struggling with his own weaknesses:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul then wrote in response:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-11.

When I feel weak, I realise that I can’t ‘do life’ on my own. I realise that I don’t have the capacity and strength alone to face the challenges that life brings. But I do know God will work His power in and through me…. regardless.

That is grace.

The Almighty God uses us fragile humans in our weakness and vulnerability and makes us strong in His power.

When I come to the end of myself I have no where else to turn but God. It is then that God’s power works in and through me in the most beautiful way.

Because when you come face to face with your fragility you understand that we are all the same.

We are all human.
We all have struggles.

It is then, as God shows us His love and grace in the midst of our own struggles, that we can show love and grace to others in the midst of their struggles.

That is the power that works within us.
The power of love and the power of grace.

It is the mystery of God.
The divine paradox.

That weakness brings strength.
And that strength is spelt LOVE.

And love and grace are all you need!

So that’s my journey of surviving my unique storm. It is still not over, but writing this post has been helpful for me in looking back over the past six months, remembering, learning and growing towards the future.

This post has, in all honesty, been written through tears as I attempt to share some of the darker realities and vulnerabilities of my journey.

However, what I do know is that these dark days are not without purpose. They have been used to strengthen me and they will be used to help others.

There is always new strength to be found in weakness. Sometimes the journey to finding it will be painful.

But it is always there to be found.


How do you find strength in weakness?


Comments are always welcome below or on my social media links. 

You can read the first post about my injury here. I have also since added a new 8 month recovery post. I then go on to write about my ongoing story of relapse at 9 months and on to rebounding into High Pressure CSF at the end of the year all these posts can be viewed under the CSF Leak and Concussion menu choice at the top of the screen. 

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

This post was inspired by my last post called ‘Breaking Free! From Pretense’.

Surviving the Storm: My Battle With Concussion & A CSF Leak.

‘The longer I live the more I realise the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude to me is more important than failures or successes, than what people think, say or do, it is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. The remarkable thing is that I have a choice everyday as to the attitude I will embrace and I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’  – Charles Swindoll

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. In fact, only a few days after I started the blog, I had (what I considered at the time) a little accident and fell off a step ladder and hit my head, neck, & spine as well as sustaining some other minor bruises.

The end result of this little fall was two and a half months of, at times, severe symptoms which were diagnosed by various medical professionals, firstly as Concussion, then Post-Concussion Syndrome & Whiplash and finally, about 3 weeks ago, I was diagnosed in hospital by neurologists as having a spinal CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) Leak. (This is a tear in the membrane that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. It results in the spinal fluid leaking out and absorbed into your body, reducing pressure and causing your brain to drop in your skull.)

I am not sure we really fully know which of my symptoms could be attributed to what diagnosis, at what point. However, in the end, the CSF leak seemed to fit many ongoing symptoms, a lumbar puncture confirmed ‘low pressure’ spinal fluid and I received treatment for this which helped a lot. (This included an epidural blood patch following over 2 weeks of lying flat in hospital whilst taking caffeine supplements & pain relief).

In short I had battled for weeks with an array of symptoms which included:
Severe dizziness
Lack of balance
Pressure headaches
Severe head and neck pain
Cognitive (thinking) impairment
Sensitivity to light and noise
Nausea
Body shaking and spasms
Struggling to walk very far (and only with support)
Struggling to talk at times
A constant need to lie down flat to alleviate/ ease symptoms. (typical of a spinal CFS leak).
Exhaustion of body & mind

Over the last 11 weeks I saw multiple NHS doctors & consultants, nurses, physios, had 3 trips to A&E, one ambulance to the house, a two and a half weeks stay in an NHS neurology ward, a CT scan, X-rays, 3 MRI scans, (all inconclusive) 1 lumbar puncture and 1 epidural blood patch.

I am currently still on the journey of recovery and building up my strength. Not fully back to normal and still have to lie down at times during the day, especially in the evenings, but I am so much better than I was.

It’s certainly been a challenging 11 weeks which totally disrupted my, and my family’s, normality. I spent 22-23 hours a day, for the first couple of months, lying in bed in a dark room, mostly on my own, doing very little and then two and a half weeks in hospital lying flat as much as possible whilst I waited for various tests and procedures.

Grunge Background

After starting my blog in January, the third blog post I wrote was about Perspective: Stepping Back From The Detail To See The Bigger Picture. I wrote about how our perspective is really important and how we sometimes we need to step back from the details to see the bigger picture. I spoke about how sometimes it’s not circumstances that need to change but the way we see what is happening. Sometimes we have to choose to see things differently, we have to see with new eyes.

Who could have known that the words that I wrote at that time could be so significant for me in the days, weeks, and even months after I wrote them. Sometimes it’s our own words that become powerful in speaking back to us. The words we say or write in one season of our life becomes so applicable to another season of our life, in a new way.

So over the past few weeks I’ve learnt a lot about perspective. Many hours, of many days, I’ve had to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. I have had to step back from the symptoms to get a larger perspective.

Some days you have to fight for a better perspective.
Sometimes you have to push your way through the details to gain a better understanding.
Sometimes you have to step back from the circumstances and choose to change your attitude.

Especially when things can be:
Scary
Unknown
Different
Exceedingly frustrating
Exhausting

When you can feel:
Very unwell
Naive
Helpless
Weak
Uninformed
Mentally impaired

When the new season requires new:
Patience
Endurance
Wisdom
Strength
Faith
Determination

Grunge Background

The past number of weeks again opened my eyes to new perspective. I can’t recall in my life ever being ill for more than a few days. I’ve never had a brain injury before and I really didn’t know a lot about them. I now have a much better understanding, and a better perspective of people who experience them and similar things.

The challenge of mild traumatic brain injuries, is that they are often unseen. They are not a visible injury. Concussions, whiplash, and often CSF leaks, don’t appear on normal CT or MRI scans so it creates problems in diagnosis, all you have is the symptoms to go on.

It’s a humbling process as you try and work your way through the symptoms, often having to rely on the information you seek out yourself, to work out what on earth is wrong with you and how to get the right treatment. It’s a challenge when you are diagnosed with something that people don’t know a lot about. When your illness or injury is not fully tangible, yet so debilitating, and can often only be diagnosed by the symptoms that you experience and have to try and communicate to medical professionals.

So it’s been a season of learning.

Challenge and hardship are often a place we grow, a place we learn, a place we develop. If we choose to approach them in the right way and with the right perspective.

The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.
The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.

Sometimes:
We just have to be patient.
We have to keep walking through the storm and trust the calm will come.
We have to face the challenges of life and then use what we learn to make us stronger and help other people.
We have to keep holding on to hope without knowing all the answers.
We have to fight to stay thankful and see the positives within a difficult time.

It’s all about having the right perspective.

It’s not easy.

Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective and step back from the details of your circumstances.

When I stepped back from the detail in my situation, I could see that it could have been worse. Yes this accident interrupted my life, yes it was frustrating, a real challenge. It totally changed my life for a number of weeks and months. However, I had so much wonderful help and support from my family and friends. I have learnt so much and gained a better perspective and more appreciation of life. And I am now coming through my storm, I am doing well in recovery and I am getting back to some kind of normality day by day.

There is never any point in wasting energy on the ‘why me?’ or ‘what ifs?’ A negative mindset, looking backwards or forwards, just destroys you from the inside out. Even amidst very difficult times there’s always something to be thankful for and others worse off than you. I always chose to believe that my storm would pass (even when I seemed to be getting worse rather than better), others don’t have that blessing, the storm just gets worse and doesn’t go away.


Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective.


So again, with new insight, I say that so much is linked to perspective. We can choose to see the positives or become consumed by the negatives in our lives. We can choose remain thankful for the good things, even when we are going through a dark time.

Often it’s not the circumstances of our lives that need to change. It’s our perspective, it’s our attitude, it’s the way we ‘see’ and think about our life.

Sometimes we need to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. We then realise that often the storms in life come and go. And with the right attitude and a hopeful perspective we will come through it:
a little stronger,
a little wiser,
a little more thankful for daily life,
and have a little more compassion for others.

It’s all about perspective!

I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’ – Charles Swindoll

Lets keep asking ourselves: What parts of our own lives could we see with a more positive perspective? Self awareness is always the first step to personal change.


I have now written two update posts about my recovery journey at 6 months and at 8 months; I then have a series of posts about a relapse at 9 months  when it was decided that I probably never had a concussion and all my symptoms could be attributed to a spinal CSF Leak

To read more about my 20 months on story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Click here to read more about my spinal CSF leak recovery following my 4th blind lumbar 40ml epidural blood patch in September 2017 and subsequent ‘rebound into higher CSF pressure/ hypersensitivity to higher pressure’ following that treatment. 

A fantastic informative video that you can refer to about spinal CSF Leaks, their symptoms and treatments is The Mystery Headache: Migraine, Positional Headache, Spinal Fluid Leak? by Professor Ian Carroll at Stamford University Hospitals.

To find out more about Concussion and Post Concussion this video is a great resource: Concussion Management